Activating the Inactive

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They can be found in every congregation....they are members, they attend the church services, but they take no part in the church's ministry program. Church leaderships generally have given up on facing this problem effectively. The more so since these members may well be affable people whom one would not readily alienate and whose financial contributions remain welcome…

However, inactive members deprive themselves of spiritual blessings, the more since their contact with the congregation will likely be minimal. And churches need their service. What can churches do about this sad reality?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Elders, as they make the rounds in their districts, should invite these members to volunteer for whatever congregational ministry suits them best. This implies that elders should be familiar with the congregational programs, a good thing to be!
  • Leaders in ministry projects should check the church's membership list and see if they recognize the inactive members in need of a challenge.
  • When the council seats new members it should visit with them and, among other things, ask in what ministry activity they would want to serve their new church.
  • Congregational activities should be reported to the congregation regularly accompanied with an invitation to the members to become participants.
  • The pulpit will now and then echo these invitations as being significant parts of believers responding to the Word.
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Hi Louis...

Those are all good ideas, yet are premised on insiders looking outside the box. The underlying assumption is people outside the box would unreservedly want to join them in the box knowing the benefits.

Yet they are not.

How do we put ourselves in their shoes, see things through their eyes, engage where they are at to understand why the disengagement, disaffiliation, etc. How does scripture speak into this issue?

Guide

There was an article about this recently in Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/june/3-reasons-people-ar...

The comments were actually more interesting than the article. Some of the people who might be made to feel shamed for appearing inactive are very involved in parachurch organizations or have work schedules that do not allow them to serve traditionally (I'm one of those - my travel schedule makes it impossible to serve well on any committees). Traditionally organized churches need to adapt their expectations and opportunities to adapt to today's realities, especially if young people are going to get involved. A classic example is the women's Bible study group that meets during the day, when many women are working.

I heard of a church in Indianapolis that suspended all committees and activities other than Sunday morning worship. After a month, people were invited to come together and decide what things they felt were important for their church to do. They created and joined teams according to their interests and skills. The church is much more vibrant now and they do not have any trouble with not getting people to volunteer. Some programs no longer exist; some look different; but the church is growing.

There is an unspoken and unrecognized reason for some of that inaction. And that is the alignment of our denomination with the issues of the Democratic party. Conservative Republicans find themselves walking on eggshells. Incessant harangues over open borders, use of energy, global warming and diversity dominate our publications, deliberations and ministries. We even have an office to promote socialism under the guise of justice.

Several years ago, I asked my daughter, who had been active in politics before she bought her store, why she had backed away from it. She looked at me and asked, "Why would I alienate half of my customers?"

The CRC is alienating half of our members. We are also cutting the number of potential converts in our evangelism efforts. It seems like before someone joins our church, we have to convert them from Republican to Democrat before they can feel comfortable in our circles. Like many of my friends, I admit to curtailing my participation because I do not want to argue or be made to feel defensive all the time. And the enthusiasm to support Democratic kingdom causes is evident in the lagging ministry shares.

The CRC has lost the ability to minister to Republicans. The church fails to recognize or respect the biblical grounds for Republican positions. So, we toss the Banner as soon as it comes. We show up on Sunday morning, because we feel that obligation, but feel alienated except around a few friends who share our perspectives.

Maybe someday, we can find that our shared commitment to our Lord's work supersedes these differences. Perhaps tolerance for other perspectives (or at least keeping guiet about them) can once again characterize our fellowship. Then we can participate with enthusiasm.

Participant

Edward, I don't know how you managed to do it, but you were able to make service and engagement in the local church a political issue.  Congratulations.  That took some skill.  That said, if your personal political POV or the perceived political POV of the greater denomination keeps you from participating in your local church (e.g. serving at a local food pantry, participating in a Bible study, or showing up for a night of fellowship of your church), I think there are bigger issues with which one needs to wrestle.  Turn off the t.v. and radio and serve someone.  One of the forms of the CRC's profession of faith asks, "Do you promise to do all you can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen your love and commitment to Christ by sharing faithfully in the life of the church, honoring and submitting to its authority; and do you join with the people of God in doing the work of the Lord everywhere?"  One does not have to claim one political affiliation or another to promise this.  Louis is calling us as individuals within a local congregation to do our part.  If your politics trumps your ability to keep that promise, I would once again say that there are greater issues at hand.  As others have said, we need to look at ways we can engage people when the traditional methods (i.e. day Bible study for women) do not work.  Bottom line.  Join your church at work and serve. 

Todd, I really appreciate your concerns about the "bigger issues" in my life. But just to put your mind at ease, as a layman, I average about 30 hours a week in activities in our local church. I also grow about 2000 pounds of food for the local food bank.

That said, I carefully avoid church activities related, for example, to climate change. As far as I can tell, it has enriched Al Gore immensely, it is based on  fictitious data, it will immeasurably harm those in poverty and the temperature has actually been going down for 17 years. I refuse to be part of a lie, even if the denomination has defined climate change as the work of the Lord. Now if that is resisting the authority of the church, and/or refusing to join with the people of God in doing the work of the Lord everywhere, I will humbly endure the discipline process.

My larger point, is that we need, both as a denomination and as individuals to avoid being a stumbling block by taking such stands. We need to focus, especially as a denomination, on our love for our Lord which binds us together and avoid those things that would tear us apart especially now when so many issues have become politicized.

Participant

Ed,

Thanks for replying.  I guess you sense you struck a nerve with me.  It is encouraging and affirming to hear about your activity in your local church and community.  I apologize by calling that into question.  

As far as your opinions and choices related to global warming, climate change, or whatever term is fashionable these days, I mourn that care for the earth has been so politicized. Personally, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about Al Gore.  I don't know what else to say other than that I will continue to try to be a good steward of the energy I use, recycle, and whatever else I can do to show respect for the gift of God's Creation.  I hope that this is not political.  I am simply trying to live out in my small part the responsibility given by God to Adam and Eve in the Garden.  

As far as submitting to the authority of the church and discipline, I am thankful that you are engaging in the work of the local church.  That was my point when I first responded.  It seemed that this is what Lou was calling us to do, and it was my impression that you "thread-jacked" his post to take a crack at the faults that you perceive with some of the statements given and activity taken by our denomination in relation to the climate.  

I have a lot of sympathy with your final paragraph.  If we focused on our love for Lord we would all be better-individually and as a denomination.  The struggle is that regardless of the position the denomination takes on one issue or another, there will always be a portion of people who call that position a stumbling block.  So, seriously, and not facetiously, I say, "Lord, have mercy.  Lord, come quickly."

Regards, and grace and peace.  

Todd

Thanks for your response and apology.

There is a little mentioned item (Article 75, Page 806) passed by Synod in 2012. It was in response to my rather vigorous objection to the adoption of the stance on Creation Stewardship and my concern for the kind of rift that taking such a position would create. I was concerned then as now about ostracizing a significant portion of our current and future membership.  In response to Lou's query on what keeps members on the sidelines, I believe that any time we strongly advocate for or against a non-salvation issue, we risk driving an unnecessary wedge between members of the body. That triggers a fight or flight syndrome and too often it is flight.

While Global Warming is one obvious example of an issue that can be used as a wedge, many positions claimed by one political faction or another run the same risk.

Members with divergent opinions can work well together in growing God's kingdom so long as there is a demonstrable commitment, in love, not to provoke each other. That would go a long ways in encouraging participation in church activities.

Warm regards,

Ed

 

 

 

Community Builder

My sincere thanks to Lubbert van der Laan, Wendy Hammond, Edward Gabrielse, and Todd Zuidema. And to all who read and pondered the challenges of serving God. This is not the place and time for me to evaluate what each of you expressed. But I do want to express my thanks to you for broadening the scope of the subject I broached. One should indeed not too easily decide who is and who is not an "active member".  Christian service, Christian life itself,  is indeed much broader than the program a local church. I appreciated that emphasis.

What also surfaces in the responses is the reality that politically spoken there are severe differences that run right through the Christian Reformed Church. May those differences not keep us from loving each other, esteeming each other, and listening to each other as believers. In the meantime there are challenges on which  we can all agree: promoting sound fiscal policies and public justice, praying for those in authority, standing with the poor and the disadvantaged, and being good stewards of God's earth.

And I think I may add that the local congregation must keep an important place in our lives.  The ministry of Word and Sacraments is basic to maintaining the  spiritual wellbeing of the members and faith-formation of a new generation among us. It remains my prayer that church-memberships remain alive, meaningful and vibrant.

Louis Tamminga

 

 

 

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